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Why Does My Toddler Sleep in His Crib Sitting Up?

author image Gail Sessoms
Gail Sessoms, a grant writer and nonprofit consultant, writes about nonprofit, small business and personal finance issues. She volunteers as a court-appointed child advocate, has a background in social services and writes about issues important to families. Sessoms holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies.
Why Does My Toddler Sleep in His Crib Sitting Up?
A parent puts their baby down to sleep in a crib. Photo Credit David Pereiras Villagrá/iStock/Getty Images

A toddler who sleeps sitting up in her crib might just be an example of the normal contrariness of toddlers, according to KidsHealth. Your toddler might be reluctant to perform any task you request of her, because she is in a developmental phase where her natural inclination is to refuse to cooperate. However, your toddler might also be experiencing serious sleep disturbances that cause her to sit up in her crib, in which position she eventually falls asleep.

Separation Anxiety

You might be familiar with separation anxiety when you drop your toddler off at day care or leave him to run errands, but toddlers also experience separation anxiety at bedtime. Toddlers who experience separation anxiety often have difficulty falling asleep or sleeping alone. Some toddlers have nightmares about separation; sitting up in his crib might be your toddler’s way of avoiding sleep, according to HelpGuide.

Sleep Environment

KidsHealth recommends checking your toddler's bedroom and crib for items that prevent her from falling asleep and staying asleep. She might need to sleep in heavier pajamas to stay warm at night. Noise from other parts of the house might awaken her during nap time or during the night.

Dreams, Nightmares and Night Terrors

Your toddler’s dreams and nightmares might awaken him and cause him to sit up to avoid going back to sleep. Nightmares, and even dreams that are not scary, can frighten and confuse your toddler since he might have trouble separating his dreams from reality. Toddlers can have recurring dreams, so the anticipation of having that dream again might cause your toddler to sit up to avoid sleep. Night terrors occur most often after midnight; while toddlers do not remember night terrors when they wake in the morning, the experience may cause your toddler to sit up to avoid sleep.


Discomfort or pain might awaken your toddler at night or during naps. If your toddler has an acid reflux condition, sitting up to sleep might be her way of alleviating the discomfort. Sleep apnea might cause sudden sleep disturbances that cause your toddler to wake up and assume a position that feels safer. The discomfort caused by gas, teething or an ear infection can also awaken your toddler and cause her to avoid returning to sleep by sitting up. Your pediatrician can help you determine if there is a medical reason for your toddler’s sleep habits.

Toddler Sleep Needs

Most toddlers sleep about 10 to 13 hours each day. Toddlers need sleep for their mental and physical development, according to Sleep for Kids, a service of the National Sleep Foundation. During non-rapid eye movement sleep, your toddler’s body is creating energy, growing and repairing tissue and using hormones to stimulate growth and development. During rapid eye movement sleep, your toddler experiences dreaming. Both sleep stages are important to the health and well-being of your toddler.


Your pediatrician can help you determine if there is a medical reason for your toddler’s sleep habits and help determine how to help your toddler sleep. A remedy might involve medication, treatment for a curable condition or simply having your toddler sleep on an incline to alleviate discomfort. A remedy might also involve developing a sleep routine for your toddler that helps him relax, fall asleep and stay asleep.

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